Getting Warmer, but Still a Chill

Today is good Friday. I’m off work and my kids are home from school. We’ve had a lazy morning and I’ve been slowly chipping away at my to-do list. My children are binging on television.

I was going to go on run but couldn’t find my fleece. There’s still a little chill in the air, and by the time I found a sweatshirt, it started raining quite hard. I shrugged my shoulders and decided to sit back down on my couch. Now I’m here, writing this post, looking out my window.

The tree on our front lawn has yielded angelic blossoms. I try to find words to describe the scene, but language and photographs fall short. I can hear jet noise of Navy fighters flying in the distance, the birds chirping, the rain still falling. As if overnight, spring is here.

Spring always seems to creep up slowly, and once it arrives, I’m amazed we made it through winter. It’s like the arrival of spring allows me to reflect and take stock of what happened in the darkness.

I’m going through a strange time in my faith, which feels more pronounced today, on Good Friday, knowing I won’t be attending a church service today or on Easter. What had been our church for five years has grown into a mega-church and the services feel overstimulating and so distant from the intimate space they once were.

I wonder if worship can be as simple as sitting on a couch, daydreaming and looking out the window, wondering about God, and trying to put the complexity of human emotion and existence into the medium of language. After all, it’s my favorite thing to do! It’s what I keep coming back to, the place where I feel God’s presence most closely.

Good Friday is a day of grief but also a day of feeling the discomfort of polarizing emotions. We dread the death and believe in the resurrection. We lose religion and gain faith. The air is warmer with still a slight chill. The tension makes us crazy but it’s also the energy that drives any good story forward. It’s the fabric of our humanity. It seems like this is what Jesus’s life is all about…entering our world…helping us to embrace it as well…leading us back to God in the midst of it.

So, this weekend I’m taking stock. Not from a church pew, not in a fancy easter outfit, not by eating Cadbury eggs. I have done and bought nothing to prepare for Easter, but I’m looking at this tree outside my window and I’m bearing witness to the realization that it didn’t do anything either, yet somehow, after a winter of bare and brittle limbs it has these indescribable blossoms that are blessing the sky before they blow away in the wind again.

I’ll close with a poem I wrote about the month of March, a month of tension and in-between spaces. The poem first appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of Relief Journal.

March

The morning the distant
sound

of a leaf blower
jolts me

from a resigned winter
slumber.

How dare he! I curse
my neighbor

and his revving motor,
ridding

the flower beds of last year’s
leaves.

The sun, too, is on the run,
winding

the final curve of its orbit,
rising earlier,

staying out later. But wait–the sun
doesn’t move–

it hangs unwavering in the black
blanket of space!

We are the sphere in constant
rotation,

caught in our constant craving
for light.

Do you feel it? The vacillation
of the earth,

always spinning yet never
arriving

like a revolving door
with no exit,

like a man fleeing the stories
of his past

only to relive them again
and again.

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Ode to Hope

Today I woke at 5am to vote. All of my children are home from school today and I wanted to get to the polls before my husband left for work. I arrived at my precinct at 5:45am and the parking lot was already filling up. A line was wrapped around the church and the lawn was lined with political signs representing all sides. It was still dark out. We waited together wearing ball caps, sweats, and blue jeans, our coffee cups in hand. Promptly at 6am, a young man yelled out, The Polls Are Open!

When we got into the main room the energy was palpable. The vibe was phenomenal. I thought about how the media captures the division, the corruption, the negativity, and the games, but it doesn’t capture this: Americans coming together, amidst our differences, to take part in this incredible gift we have of voting, of choosing a leader. Whether we actually like those polarizing leaders or not is another issue, ha! But, putting my conspiracy theories and cynicism aside, I must admit that whoever wins this insane election, I do feel honored and blessed to be a part of this crazy, diverse, wild country.

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The church where I vote is right across the street from the ocean, so I walked down to watch the sunrise. The dolphins were skimming the water’s surface and the seagulls were camped out on the shore. I waited about ten minutes before the sun finally emerged from the horizon. We’ve been studying the poetic book of Ecclesiastes for the past few months and I thought of these verses:

“The sun rises and the sun sets,
and hurries back to where it rises.
All streams flow into the sea,
yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
there they return again.
All things are wearisome,
more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
nor the ear its fill of hearing.
What has been will be again,
what has been done will be
done again;
there is nothing new under
the sun.
–Ecclesiastes 1:5,7-9

I suppose these verses sound a bit dim, but I find them grounding and refreshing amidst the catastrophic media messages. There is nothing new under the sun. Patterns repeat in history and humanity just as they repeat in nature. What is happening in our country at this point in time is new, and it’s not. I feel like the only really secure thing to fall back on is faith, which is so apolitical.

Here’s a gorgeous Pablo Neruda poem to close with, which reminded me of the ocean this morning. We men, touch the water, struggling and hoping…the waves tell the firm coast: Everything will be fulfilled.

ODE TO HOPE by Pablo Neruda

Oceanic dawn
at the center
of my life,
waves like grapes,
the sky’s solitude,
you fill me
and flood
the complete sea,
the undiminished sky,
tempo
and space,
sea foam’s white
battalions,
the orange earth,
the sun’s
fiery waist
in agony,
so many
gifts and talents,
birds soaring into their dreams,
and the sea, the sea,
suspended
aroma,
chorus of rich, resonant salt,
and meanwhile,
we men,
touch the water,
struggling,
and hoping,
we touch the sea,
hoping.

And the waves tell the firm coast:
‘Everything will be fulfilled.’

HAPPY ELECTION DAY.

january mourning

Whatever happens,
those who have learned
to love one another
have made their way
to the lasting world
and will not leave,
whatever happens.
–Wendell Berry

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I’m currently sitting amongst the wreckage at my desk: crinkled receipts, lit magazines, old journals, my marked-up calendar, stray earrings, hair bands, loose change, a high pile of papers from the children’s schools. Multiples times today I have tried to bring order to it, to sort and file and throw away, but instead I end up staring at the disaster, then looking out the window instead. So much for getting organized in the new year.

I’ve hardly written a thing since I graduated this summer. I suppose the pendulum has swung the other way. The break from writing, however, gave me the opportunity to re-engage with another part of myself as I’ve re-entered the nursing/working world. My thoughts have been many; my words few.

I love how the new year is a natural ushering in of change and reflection. 2014, for me, was a year of finishing. I was able to tie up loose ends both personally and academically. In many ways, 2014 felt like a return to myself after a decade of wandering, both geographically and psychologically. I am thankful for that.

As I look ahead to 2015, I am painfully mindful of the brevity of life. During the holiday season we lost an incredible nurse at my workplace. Margie was an inspiration to me and made my transition back into nursing such a positive experience. She was so warm, so open to people and life. Her sudden death was completely unexpected and has left us all rattled and grieved. The sobering thing is this: We are not guaranteed one minute. Each new day is truly a gift. I know this reality is lost on me all too quickly. As I enter this new year, I want to hold onto this truth. I never want to take life for granted.

This past week I wrote down a few concrete personal and professional goals, but beyond these, I suppose my biggest hope for this year is to live life with an open posture, like Margie did. Sometimes, as a working mom of three kids, life feels exhausting and overwhelming. I close myself off to things because it can all feel like “too much.” I create invisible walls around my little psyche in the name of self-preservation. I hope that I have enough faith as the year unfolds to allow some of those walls to relax a bit and say “yes” to things I might not ordinarily. I want to enjoy the moment and let the cards fall where they will. I want to love people well, and with a bit more abandon. Life is too short to hold back. And, of course, I hope to write more, too.

What are your reflections on 2014? What are your hopes for 2015?

French Press

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“French Press”
9×12; mixed media

It’s been a long week here. The children staying home from school 4 out of 5 days this week completely derailed my plans. Plus, I have a willful first grader at home and it appears that she is six going on sixteen! We are facing the sobering reality that as parents, we can do what we can to teach our children what is right, but a lot of what they decide to do is out of our control. Terrifying. All at once I want them to be self-sufficient but also do exactly what I say. I guess it doesn’t work this way.

Enter: God…

…and faith that the big stuff that’s out of our hands is in His. It’s hard to do what you can and detach from the rest, but I am learning that it’s essential to sanity and survival.

In any case, amidst the hard work of parenting, there was magical snow…waking up to snow on Wednesday morning, the entire yard covered in smooth and unsullied white. I remember drinking my first cup of coffee that morning standing at the window, looking at the beauty just beyond the glass, life seeming to stand still for just a moment.

Life is such a blend of struggle and beauty. I suppose we are always bouncing between the two and grappling with where to land amidst the polarity.

The above painting is one that I did a few months ago, but it felt appropriate to share it today. Coffee and poetry in scripture have helped sustain me this week. Trusting in Him…pouring out my heart to Him. I am thankful for faith–for freedom that comes in trust–and for creative endeavors that bring me peace and calm even when life doesn’t go as planned!

lyrics/love

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It’s a cold, rainy, December morning. The house is quiet except for a new album I bought last week that plays quietly in the background. Winter is the perfect time for new music. I find that it helps fight off the drab and darkening weather–it makes life feel new and fresh and inspiring again.

I bought the album “Strict Joy” by The Swell Season. You may have seen this pair of talented musicians (Irish musician Glen Hansard and Czech singer/pianist Marketa Irglova) star in the movie “Once.” They also created this beautiful album together back in 2009. If you are looking for new music to combat, or perhaps embrace, the winter blues, I recommend this one.

As I was listening through the tracks this past week, this lyric hit me…

GIVE YOURSELF TO A LOVE THAT CONQUERS.

It’s a beautiful image and one that feels so central to what we celebrate this time of year as we anticipate the birth of Jesus, the One whose Love conquers all, today and forever. I wrote the lyric on our chalkboard so I can think about it for the next few days.

How do I give myself to His Love…on a daily and tangible level? What struggles does His Love conquer in my life? Where do I still need some conquering? Good questions to think about during this advent season.

Today I’m thankful for little inspirations, for colored lights, new music, moody gray skies and hot coffee.

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” — James 1:17

His love conquers. His love is permanent.